Tomek Borkowky

Tomek Borkowky’s 2013 account of working with Michael Almaz at the Cafe Theatre:

‘I met Michael at the beginning of 1983, about six months after I escaped from Poland, which was then under Martial Law. Despite my very poor English he gave me a job as an Assistant Stage Manager in his Cafe Theatre Upstairs, a fringe venue on top of the Bear & Staff pub, opposite Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End. A month later I became Stage Manager. Four weeks later, Michael went to Israel to cover a story for the BBC World Service and he left me with the task of running rehearsals. It was another re-casting of Intimacy, based on a story by Jean-Paul Sartre and with Marina Sirtis (later Deanna Troi in Star Trek TNG). When Michael came back after four days of rehearsals, we showed him the progress we had made. He was a bit puzzled and said ‘Tomek I didn’t direct… this …?!’ I answered with more than a little fright: “Of course not, I did. But I cannot direct like you”. So Michael looked at me for a moment and told me to finish the job. It went under my name as the director. After the opening he bought me a beer and invited me to join him as co-director of The Cafe Theatre Upstairs. He was a visionary thinker and producer who sensed that I could be an asset to his theatre not only as a SM or a stage director.

Almaz called himself an Anarchist-Pacifist, which was reflected in all his writing. His knowledge of history was fantastic and we had a lot of historical and political discussions. I remember the UK election of 9 June 1983, during which I was directing his play The Underground Man, based on Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground. Michael came to the theatre to check on how we were doing. After seeing that we were working hard he said ‘OK, you carry on and I am going to go to vote’. I looked at him in disbelief – ‘Michael you are an Anarchist! Who you are going to vote for?’ He answered very calmly, ‘I always vote against.’

In 1983 we decided that the Artaud Theatre Company would bring my production of Michael’s Dialogue With a Dying Man with Sophie Aldred (the last Dr Who companion to Sylvester McCoy) , adapted from The Death of the Marquis de Sade by the man himself, to the Edinburgh Fringe.

We performed at the Little Lyceum, situated in ‘the hole in the ground’ where the new Traverse has since been built. This was when I fell in love with Edinburgh and the Festival. And then in 1990 I came back to Edinburgh with my own Ab Ovo Theatre Company presenting Almaz’s The Underground Man. I performed in it alongside Sophie Aldred, the last Dr Who assistant from the early era.  The press branded us ‘Dostoyevsky-ian characters that could not be bettered’. That is how my relationship with Hill Street Theatre started, and really all thanks to Michael.  Cut! is the first of Michael’s plays that I am going to revive in the next couple of years, as his writing deserves more recognition.

I owe Michael a lot as will a large number of theatre practitioners who worked with him including Simon Callow and Muriel Romanes. I will always cherish my memories of the time I spent talking and working with him.

Over the years many other actors worked with the company. Unfortunately few records of their names were kept. One name comes to mind, a well- known, beautiful actor called Marina Sirtis (later Deanna Troi in Star Trek TNG), Sophie Aldred (the last Dr Who Companion to Sylvester McCoy), Elisabeth Romilly.’

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